When moms get ac­tive, kids fol­low

Daily Trust - - HEALTH -

Want to keep your lit­tle kids ac­tive? A new study sug­gests that moth­ers may be the key: Preschool chil­dren with more ac­tive moms ap­pear more likely to be ac­tive them­selves.

The re­search doesn’t con­firm that phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity in moth­ers di­rectly af­fects how much their kids walk or run around. And the find­ings don’t say any­thing about the role of fa­thers.

Still, the study pro­vides ev­i­dence that moth­ers should be en­cour­aged to move around, said lead au­thor Es­ther van Sluijs, group leader with the MRC Epi­demi­ol­ogy Unit and the Cen­ter for Diet and Ac­tiv­ity Re­search, at the Univer­sity of Cam­bridge School of Clin­i­cal Medicine, in Eng­land.

“If ac­tiv­ity in moth­ers and chil­dren can be en­cour­aged or in­cor­po­rated into daily ac­tiv­i­ties so that more time is spent mov­ing, ac­tiv­ity lev­els are likely to in­crease in both,” she said. “In re­turn, this is likely to have long-term health ben­e­fits for both.”

The re­searchers launched their study to build on other re­search into how the phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity of moth­ers and their kids are con­nected, van Sluijs said.

Ac­cord­ing to the re­searcher, par­ents seem to af­fect their kids’ phys­i­cal ac­tiv­i­ties in three ways -by act­ing as role mod­els, by help­ing kids be ac­tive (by tak­ing them to the park, for in­stance), and by be­ing ac­tive with them. “All three as­pects are thought to be im­por­tant,” van Sluijs said, “but it has gen­er­ally been un­clear how di­rectly mother and child’s phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity are re­lated.”

In the study, the re­searchers used de­vices called ac­celerom­e­ters to track 554 chil­dren, all 4 years old, and their moth­ers for as many as seven days. “The more ac­tiv­ity a mother did, the more ac­tive her child,” van Sluijs noted.

Specif­i­cally, for ev­ery sin­gle minute of mod­er­ate-to-vig­or­ous ac­tiv­ity that the mother did, her child was more likely to do 10 per­cent more of a sim­i­lar level of ac­tiv­ity. Those ex­tra min­utes add up over time, the re­searchers pointed out.

Does that mean ac­tive moth­ers make their kids more ac­tive or the other way around? Or could an­other fac­tor such as ge­net­ics or the places where fam­i­lies live af­fect the level of phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity in both mother and child? It’s not clear.

How­ever, “it is likely that ac­tiv­ity in one of the pair in­flu­ences ac­tiv­ity in the other,” van Sluijs said.

The re­search mat­ters be­cause “bet­ter un­der­stand­ing ac­tiv­ity pat­terns in preschool-age chil­dren can in­form the ways we ap­proach preven­tion and in­ter­ven­tion,” said Bernard Fuem­meler, an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor and co-di­rec­tor of

All sto­ries cour­tesy The New York Times Duke Univer­sity Med­i­cal Cen­ter’s mHealth@Duke, which ex­plores the use of tech­nol­ogy to im­prove health. Fuem­meler was not in­volved with the study.

An­other ex­pert fo­cused on the is­sue of fa­thers and what role they might play.

“This is a big ques­tion not ad­dressed here,” said Leann Birch, a pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Ge­or­gia’s depart­ment of foods and nu­tri­tion who stud­ies chil­dren and obe­sity. But, she said, re­search on par­ent­ing sug­gests that fa­thers tend to en­gage in more rough-and-tum­ble and high-ac­tion play with kids than moth­ers.

Also, she said, “some of our own work showed that re­ported ac­tiv­ity by dads was more im­por­tant than by moms in pre­dict­ing the ac­tiv­ity of daugh­ters, es­pe­cially in or­ga­nized sports dur­ing later child­hood.”

As for fu­ture stud­ies, lead au­thor van Sluijs said re­searchers hope to in­ves­ti­gate whether the link be­tween phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity in moth­ers and chil­dren will change as kids grow older. They also want to study “ways to en­gage the fam­ily and help par­ents to ef­fec­tively change their own and their chil­dren’s health be­hav­iors,” she said.

The study ap­peared on­line March 24 and in the April print is­sue of the jour­nal Pe­di­atrics.

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